Thursday, December 22, 2011

Prequel: God Rest You Merry

This is an extra extra long post for you this week. Sort of a little Christmas special for you. So Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Happy Solstice, Kwanzaa, or whatever. Have a fun, peaceful, and safe Sunday however you choose to spend it. God rest you merry! 

-'gina



Wash Monahan scowled at his trail partner, irritated.

Well, honestly, “irritated” was probably a more charitable word than either of them deserved. Truth be told, Wash Monahan had had just about enough of the man.

The air was dry and windy and cold, biting into their exposed skin as it whistled through the buttes and rock pillars lining the trail. It was the sort of day Wash hated, with the sun a glaring, painful spearpoint, stabbing into his blue eyes no matter where he looked. His face itched, dried by the cold air. And Saint, the Italian coach driver he found himself working with these days, wasn’t helping improve his mood. Fortunately, it was a short supply run in a mud coach, and they didn’t expect to be gone for more than a day or two.

“Wash...” Saint said, not even trying to disguise the contempt in his voice. “You’re sayin’ you don’t get why I might not want to spend Christmas Day out here on the trail, in the cold, on top of this damn wagon box. And with what is turning out to be really shitty company, no less. You’re honestly saying that?”

Wash turned in his seat, trying to settle his butt into a more comfortable position as the coach lurched along the trail. Jaysus, me poor arse...a Concord this is not...“I’m sayin’ what’s the difference, is all I’m sayin’. It isna like you’re going to Mass or even visiting with anyone that matters, does it?”

“That ain’t the point.” Saint spat.

“It’s just another sodding day, lad.” Wash pressed. “So what if we spend it here or back at the Green?”

“It ain’t just another day, Wash.” Saint’s face twisted in frustration and he turned to face him. “And anyways, what the hell? I thought you were Catholic...”

“Aye, I was at one time. Another time.” Wash’s mind was skirting around a place he didn’t want to go. He tried to haul it back, back to where it didn’t consume him, feeling his anger flare. Another life. I’m someone else now. Unbidden memories flitted through his mind. Fire, darkness, despair. The end of his old life in a rush of steel and agony and blood swirling over the filthy cobbles of the street. A black robed priest with a gun in his hand, bringing him back, casting him out, sending him to this life.

This life would do. God had forsaken the old one, and Wash could hardly blame him. In fact, Wash himself had forsaken it, so he could hardly blame God for turning his face away from that awful sodding mess. Wash could forgive Him that.

But he couldn’t forgive Him turning from Dorcas. So he and God would just have to go their separate ways from here on out.

“I’m not anymore.” He said finally. “And to me, it’s just another day. But we’re making good time, so we are, and not far from the Green. We’ll be back in plenty of time for you to not go to Mass.”

Saint grimaced, coughing and  turning his attention back to driving the coach. “Cazzone.” he muttered.

“Tosser.”

A gust of wind hit them hard, slamming against his chest and making the coach shudder beneath them. His hat blew back off his head, the lanyard beneath his chin biting into his throat. For the first time since he and Saint had started arguing, he realized the sun was no longer hurting his eyes. He jammed his hat back onto his head and ducked so his brim shielded his face from the hail of tiny, stinging bits of driven ice. The weather had been clear and dry all week, and they hadn’t counted on the sudden, razor-sharp wind bringing with it clouds the color of slate and air that sliced into the lungs like arrowheads made of ice.

“Ah, they don’t pay us enough for this shite.” He muttered, pulling his scarf up over his mouth more firmly, feeling snow cling to his stubbled face and bite into his cheeks.

“Merda.” Saint growled. “Where the hell did this come from?” He coughed again, doubling his scarf around his face and grimacing as the flying snow clung to his eyelashes and sifted into his hair. It was coming down nearly sideways, blowing underneath the brims of their hats.

“Dunno, lad, but it’ll slow us down, sure. How far are we from the station?”

“Not real far...but it’s comin’ down hard.” He clicked his tongue, quickening the pace of the team. Wash grabbed the seatback for balance as the coach jerked forward. “Shit.” Saint hissed, defeated. He was barely visible behind the sheets of stinging white that blasted them. The wheels of the coach had started to slow in the drifts of powder swirling over the trail.

“I’m thinkin’ to stop here, lad, against these buttes.” Wash looked around at the walls of stone that rose up along the trail. “This coach may be done if the snow gets deeper. at least it's sheltered over here.”
.
“I’m with you.” Saint said, slowing the coach and steering it close as he could to the leeward side of the sheltering rock walls. “We need to protect these horses. We may need to ride out of here on ‘em later.”

“Aye.” Wash swung himself onto the wagon box behind the seat and started pulling out canvas tarps and buffalo robes as Saint pulled the coach alongside the wall. The temperature had dropped like an anvil tossed out of a boat, and the wind howled as it scoured through the rocks.

“Wash, see if you can pull those tarps between the coach and the wall. We’ll put the horses in. Might be warmer.” Saint called as he jumped to the ground, his voice strained and tossed in the force of the blizzard. “Gonna unhitch.”

“Aye, lad, sure.” The rock wall offered considerable protection from the screaming wind. Wash bound the edges of the tarps into the railings at the top of the coach and wedged them against the rock wall with rocks and dead branches. It was sloppy and cramped, but it would be better than no protection at all. He dumped the robes in a pile out of the way.

Saint pulled the horses underneath, struggling as they protested entering the makeshift tent. “Glad we only got the two of ‘em.” He coughed violently, snow pouring off his hat and shoulders as he helped Wash pull the tarp back down over their rumps.  “Sh...sh, no.” he murmured, his hands gently playing over the horse’s coats, brushing the snow off as quickly as he could before it melted. He was breathing hard, his breath whistling softly as he worked.

“Might blow over, lad.”

Saint nodded, saying nothing. His shoulders heaved with exertion and he straightened, giving the horse he’d been soothing one more gentle caress before opening the door to the wagon and sitting down hard on the sill.

Wash felt a twinge of guilt. His new trail partner was homesick. The fact they were nearing Christmas had been eating at him, kicking the loose lid off the yawning chasm of his longing. He’d been distant of late, short tempered and irritable. And if he had to be honest with himself, so had he himself. The lad’s got something to go back to, people thinking about him. Sometimes I dun’ know what’s worse. Knowing someone’s there that misses you, or knowin’ there isn’t. It was all good sport to chide him about his sentiment and soft spots, to give him a hard time when it seemed they’d end up getting back on schedule anyways and no harm would be done. But now that it seemed they might actually end up stuck here instead, Wash genuinely felt a little remorse for picking on his trail mate.

I guess there’s something to be said for having nothing behind you but a smouldering ruin and buggers who want to kill you. He scowled unhappily beneath his scarf. Sod it. It’s not like I miss the Five Points. I fecking well don’t. Sod the whole nasty lot.

Wash stuck his hat back on his head and shivered. It was still cold, but at least they were out of the wind. “Y’all right?”

Saint nodded, trying to catch his breath. He braced his hands on the top of the open doorway. “Fine.” he whispered. “Gimme a minute...”

Wash frowned. The younger man’s skin was pale, gleaming with sweat, and Wash’s alarm grew at the gray tinge of Saint’s lips. “Lad...”

Saint frowned, his hand shooting up in a halting motion. “Fine...” he mouthed, “Just...”

“Sweating in this cold can kill you, so it can.” Wash pushed past the man’s defensive gesture, grasping his shoulders and laying a hand on his forehead. “Come here to me, lad. Jaysus, you look like shite. How long ha’ you been like this?” Saint’s skin was soaked, icy. How did this come on so fecking quick?

Saint was wheezing, his shoulders heaving with the effort of breathing. “It’ll pass.” he croaked, his teeth starting to chatter. He started to sag sideways in the doorway and Wash pushed him backwards, catching his head so it didn’t hit the floor of the coach as he eased him back.

Saint struggled to his elbows, trying to pull away, shaking his head.

“Let me help you, lad. Stop fighting me!” He hauled himself into the coach and helped Saint pull himself up against the seat. “Tell me what to do!”

Saint shook his head, his breath whistling in his throat. “Can’t.” He let his head fall back onto the seat,helpless and shivering in the throes of whatever had him in its grip.

A gust of wind hit the side of the coach, making it lurch on its thoroughbraces. Icy wind slipped through the canvas window covering on the windward side, sharp and threatening. Wash swung out of the wagon and hauled the robes up, wrestling their musty bulk through the doorway of the coach. He was glad for the heat of the horses. It helped take some of the bite out of the chill, but with his partner struggling to breathe in a cold sweat, he knew he still had a deadly situation on his hands. In this cold, that thin layer of cloying moisture might as well be a funeral shroud. It would suck the warmth right out of a man’s body, and with it his life. .I might be riding home alone, sure. This is bad.

Saint was clawing open his coat, trying to free himself from the constriction around his chest, gasping painfully. Wash shed his own coat and dropped down to sit on the floor beside him, leaning his back against the seat. He pulled the robes around them both, hauling Saint close to his side and wrapping an arm around him. He shook the flask out of his boot and grabbed it with his free hand.

“Got whiskey, lad.” Wash unscrewed the top. “Good for everything, so it is.” He raised it to Saint’s lips. “Easy does it, now. Just enough so you can feel it.”

Saint took a bracing gulp, then tried to push away. Wash held him firmly against his side. “Stop, Saint. You’re soaked and shivering, lad, and I’d rather not have to tell Lynch I let you freeze to death.” He raised the flask to Saint’s lips. “A wee drop, now.”

Saint gasped, grimacing, taking another pull from the flask. His teeth clicked against the metal top as he shook with cold, coughing.

“Are you in pain?” Wash released his grip a bit, giving Saint some air. “What...”

“No.” He drew in a ragged, wheezing breath. “It’s passing.”

Wash could feel Saint’s skin warming up beneath his arm, the violent shuddering in his chest subsiding. He shifted and let Saint’s head roll onto his shoulder. The thought of his younger brother Connor came unnbidden to his mind and he inwardly cringed. Connor, with his angry drunkenness, his disrespect. Connor, with his arrogant entitlement and his violence and his out of control aggression.

He’d failed Connor so completely. Despite his efforts, despite his trying so hard, he couldn’t change who Connor was. He couldn’t save him.

Big brothers are supposed to be the protective ones. Why wouldn’t he let me be there for him?
Why was I not someone he could look up to?  Jaysus, me only family left, so he was. Me own brother calls me enemy...

He pushed the thoughts back into the crowded, dark basement inside him, and composed his words, his voice unsteady and soft. “So. Laddie. what hideous pestilence can I look forward to catching from you?”

“Being beaten to death, if you ever tell anyone about this.”

Wash smirked, giving Saint’s arm a patronizing pat. “You’re hardly me type, lass. And there isna enough whiskey in that flask by half.”

Saint closed his eyes, breathing. Wash was relieved to see that while he still looked pale and ill, the bluish tinge of his skin was fading. “It’s from rock dust.” He inhaled as if he’d just been plucked from the sea after nearly drowning. “You can’t catch it. I worked in mines since almost before I can remember.”

Wash furrowed his brow, images of wee boys covered in black dust reeling through his mind. “I see.”

“Hey, Wash?”

“Aye?”

“Look...thanks. It...it ain’t usually this bad. I don’t think I could have...well...” He paused, taking a few labored breaths. “You got me through it. Thanks. I’m glad you were here.”

Wash nodded, listening to the wind howling. Occasionally a gust would catch the coach and rattle it ominously. Hell of a place to spend Christmas Eve. He gave Saint’s shoulder a brotherly squeeze.“Lad... I’m sorry we’re stuck here and I’m sorry we’re probably not going to make it back by tomorrow. I was a right sodding tosser to you, and I’m sorry for that, too.”

Saint’s eyes were still closed, his voice sleepy. “We both were. I’m sorry, too. It’s not important,”

“It’s important to you.”

“It’s important to not be alone tomorrow. I just wanted some friends around, maybe a day off. Maybe a friendly card game.”

“There’s cards in the box, lad. I think we can manage it.”

Saint was quiet a moment. Wash wondered if he’d fallen asleep, but he shifted under the robes, relaxing. “We work together day in and day out. I should have got you something.”

A bittesweet pang turned inside of Wash’s chest and he listened with satisfaction and relief to the slowing of Saint’s breathing as it steadied. “You did, lad. Go on to sleep with you now. I’ll keep watch.”

5 comments:

Itsbugart said...

Awwww, that's nice!!! Sweet but not too sugary if you know what I mean!

God Jul!

Regina said...

I do indeed. I'm of the opinion that a little sugar goes a long way.

God Jul to you, too!

Brittany Ann said...

Okay, it was all I could do not to clasp my hands and squeal. <3 I love these two guys!

Melissa said...

AWWW Why didn't my sister tell me this had updated??? So cute. Gah. I love dude friendships.

Regina said...

If I'd known the bromance between these two would turn out to be so popular, the story would have been more a "buddy" tale from the get go!

:-DDDD